Moody’s downgrades Lebanon, cites default risk

Moody’s downgrades Lebanon, cites default risk
A worker walks past food items displayed for sale inside a supermarket in Beirut, Lebanon November 5, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 05 November 2019

Moody’s downgrades Lebanon, cites default risk

Moody’s downgrades Lebanon, cites default risk
  • Lebanon’s issuer rating, which was lowered from Caa1, remained under review for downgrade
  • The price of Lebanon’s dollar eurobonds fell by more than 2 cents in the dollar

BEIRUT: Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday downgraded Lebanon’s rating to Caa2, citing the increased likelihood of a debt rescheduling it would classify as a default, following protests that toppled the government and shook investor confidence.
Lebanon’s issuer rating, which was lowered from Caa1, remained under review for downgrade, Moody’s said. Moody’s classifies Caa ratings as very high credit risk.
“In the absence of rapid and significant policy change, a rapidly deteriorating balance of payments and deposit outflows will bring GDP growth to or below zero, further stoking social discontent, undermining debt sustainability and increasingly threatening the viability of the peg,” the ratings agency said.
Several weeks of protests have led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, stalling the chances of reforms to the 2020 budget and further draining Lebanon’s already depleted foreign exchange reserves.
In a sign of Lebanon’s increasing financial stress, the cost of insuring its debt has touched record levels in recent weeks and eurobond yields have risen to distressed levels. On Tuesday, the price of Lebanon’s dollar eurobonds fell by more than 2 cents in the dollar, according to Tradeweb data.
Moody’s said it expected the central bank’s usable foreign exchange buffer of about $5-10 billion will “likely be consumed” by the government’s forthcoming external debt service payments estimated at $6.5 billion this year and next, including a $1.5 billion maturity on Nov. 28.
The rating and review for further downgrade “reflect the increasing likelihood of a debt rescheduling or other credit negative liability management exercise that could result in private sector holders of government liabilities suffering significant losses,” Moody’s said.
That would constitute a default under Moody’s definition, it added.
Lebanon has never defaulted on its external debt, despite frequent bouts of political and security instability.
The central bank’s holdings of government securities implied Lebanon had options for debt management in the near-term that would limit losses for the private sector in the event of a default, Moody’s said.
Options such as debt maturity extension or debt cancelation involving the central bank’s debt holdings amounting to 50% of GDP could help as long as the currency’s peg to the US dollar remained, the agency said.
“However, those options are diminishing the longer Lebanon’s economic and political crisis persists,” it added.


France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
Updated 17 January 2021

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
  • All eyes on President-elect Biden to resolve disputes between partners

PARIS: The EU and the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden should suspend a trade dispute to give themselves time to find common ground, France’s foreign minister said in remarks published on Sunday.

“The issue that’s poisoning everyone is that of the price escalation and taxes on steel, digital technology and Airbus,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Journal du Dimanche in an interview.

He said he hoped the sides could find a way to settle the dispute. “It may take time, but in the meantime, we can always order a moratorium,” he added.

At the end of December the US moved to boost tariffs on French and German aircraft parts in the Boeing-Airbus subsidy dispute, but the bloc decided to hold off on retaliation for now.

The EU is planning to present a World Trade Organization (WTO) reform proposal in February and is willing to consider reforms to restrain the judicial authority of the WTO’s dispute-settlement body.

The US has for years complained that the WTO Appellate Body makes unjustified new trade rules in its decisions and has blocked the appointment of new judges to stop this, rendering the body inoperable.

The Trump administration, which leaves office on Wednesday, had threatened to impose tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other goods in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which it said discriminated against US tech firms.

Overturning decades of free trade consensus was a central part of Trump’s “America First” agenda. In 2018, declaring that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” he shocked allies by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from most of the world.

While Trump later dropped tariffs against Australia, Japan, Brazil and South Korea in return for concessions, he kept them in place against more than $7 billion worth of EU metal. The bloc retaliated with tariffs on more than $3 billion worth of US goods, from orange juice and blue jeans to Harley Davidson bikes, and took its case to the WTO.

While Biden promises to be more predictable than Trump, he is not expected to lift the steel tariffs immediately. Even if he wants to, he could run into reluctance from producers in “rust belt” states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that secured his election win.

Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of trade think tank ECIPE, said the US was unlikely to award Europe a “free pass,” noting that countries that had offered concessions to have their tariffs lifted could complain if Europe won better treatment.

Resolving future trade disputes could become easier, if Biden reverses Trump policy that paralyzed the WTO by blocking the appointment of judges to its appellate body.